Twitter truce? Jeff Bezos gives props to SpaceX

Image: SpaceX Falcon landing
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first-stage booster descends toward a landing on a ship in the Pacific Ocean after the Jason 3 launch. SpaceX says the booster tipped over due to a landing-leg failure. (Credit: SpaceX)

Rocket launches can sometimes turn into flame wars, as shown by last year’s Twitter tug of war between space-minded billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

The rivalry behind Bezos’ Blue Origin and Musk’s SpaceX has been going on for years, flaring up over issues ranging from control of Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to the patent rights for rocket landings at sea. In both those cases, SpaceX prevailed at Blue Origin’s expense.

That rivalry crossed over into the Twittersphere in November, when the Amazon founder used his first tweet to tout the landing of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spacecraft after its first test flight to an outer-space altitude.

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Billionaire space club pits Musk vs. Bezos et al.

Image: Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin's New Shepard craft
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (in hat and sunglasses) pops open a bottle of champagne after Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket landing in November. (Credit: Blue Origin)

When Jeff Bezos welcomed SpaceX to the rocket landing “club” last week, it set off a round of twittering over whether Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and fellow billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX were really in the same league. What kind of club was Bezos talking about?

The club that Bezos had in mind was precisely defined: It consists of ventures that can launch a rocket booster from the ground into space, and then bring that booster back intact for a vertical landing.

Blue Origin was the first to become a member, during a November test flight of its suborbital New Shepard spaceship in Texas. SpaceX followed in December, with the successful landing of its Falcon 9’s first-stage booster after the launch of 11 Orbcomm telecommunication satellites.

Lots of folks have pointed out how much more difficult it is to bring back a booster after an orbital launch, as opposed to New Shepard’s up-and-down suborbital trip. The Falcon 9 stage is more than 10 times as powerful and rose twice as high as New Shepard. The implications are greater, as well: Musk says total rocket reusability could lower the cost of delivering satellites and other payloads to orbit by a factor of 100, and eventually open the way for building a city on Mars.

Based on Bezos’ narrow definition of the club, Blue Origin may have been the first member, but this month SpaceX took the lead.

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Watch Blue Origin’s rocket scientists get happy

“Touchdown” means something different to rocket scientists and to football fans, but the cheering, hugs and high fives are the same – as revealed today in a Blue Origin video.

The video shows how the Nov. 23 landing of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spacecraft played out, as seen from four perspectives. Two views showed how the autonomous landing went down at the company’s test range in West Texas. The other two views showed the reaction of Blue Origin employees who gathered at the company’s headquarters in Kent, Wash.

Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Blue Origin as well as the better-known Amazon online commerce venture, touted the video in the third tweet he’s ever posted.

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Jeff Bezos spaces out: ‘I can’t wait to go!’

Image: Jeff Bezos and champagne
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, sprays champagne from a bottle after the successful landing of the New Shepard rocket booster on Monday. (Credit: Blue Origin via YouTube)

Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, says watching his Blue Origin rocket make a safe landing after flying into space rates as one of the greatest moments of his life, and he can’t wait to take a ride himself.

In an exclusive GeekWire interview, conducted on the morning after the New Shepard test mission, Bezos answered questions about what the flight means for Blue Origin, the space venture he founded … why he waited so long to start tweeting … and when the rest of us will get a suborbital space ride. He also stirred the pot in his rivalry with that other billionaire space geek, SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos tweets for the first time

The flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship on an uncrewed trip to space and back may be history-making, but here’s a first that’s almost as big for social media: Jeff Bezos’ maiden tweet.

One of Bezos’ biggest rivals in the space game is SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, who weighed in with an artful series of tweets that started out praising Blue Origin’s test flight but ended up downplaying it.

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Blue Origin sends rocket to space, gets it back

Image: New Shepard launch
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship rises from its launch pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, successfully sent its New Shepard rocket ship to outer space for the first time on Monday – and even more amazingly, brought every piece back down to Earth for a soft landing.

“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket,” Bezos wrote in a blog posting that spread the news and shared a video.

Bezos makes a couple of cameo appearances in the video – including a shot showing him taking a seat in the control room before launch, and a post-landing scene in which he pops open a champagne bottle. (He’s the guy wearing the hat and sunglasses.)

The achievement arguably qualifies New Shepard as the “first fully reusable rocket” to go into space, said Jessica Pieczonka, a spokeswoman for Blue Origin. The flight comes after more than a decade of effort and several test flights at Blue Origin’s launch facility near Van Horn, Texas. The company is headquartered in Kent, Wash., and recently struck a deal for a $200 million launch and manufacturing complex in Florida.

Blue Origin’s aim is to reduce the cost of sending people and payloads to the final frontier – first, on suborbital up-and-down trajectories, and eventually into orbit and back. The venture follows through on Bezos’ childhood dream of spaceflight.

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Blue Origin’s next flight is coming ‘very soon’

New Shepard launch
Blue Origin’s New Shepard prototype spaceship lifts off for a test flight in April. (Blue Origin photo)

Even as Jeff Bezos celebrates past achievements in spaceflight, he’s looking forward to seeing his Blue Origin space venture make future achievements.

The next flight test of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship should come “very soon,” Bezos said Thursday at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, after a ceremony marking the arrival of historic Saturn V rocket engine parts that his Bezos Expeditions team recovered from the Atlantic two years ago.

“We’re ready and excited to fly again,” Bezos said.

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Jeff Bezos helps unwrap Apollo engine artifacts

Unwrapping the injector plate
Billionare Jeff Bezos beams as Allison Loveland, a collection specialist at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, unwraps an Apollo F1 rocket engine injection plate. Geoff Nunn, the museum’s adjunct curator for space history, stands by to the left. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

Even Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos got misty-eyed at Seattle’s Museum of Flight during Thursday’s unveiling of rocket engine parts from the Apollo moonshots.

“I always do,” he told GeekWire afterward.

It’s not just the fact that Bezos has been a space fan since the age of 5. He funded the Bezos Expeditions voyage that recovered hundreds of parts from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, 14,000 feet down – and he was aboard the ship when the mangled 40-year-old parts were brought up from the deep in 2013.

It was Bezos who asked NASA to let some of the artifacts go on exhibit in his hometown museum. This summer, the space agency gave its OK. So Bezos was all smiles when he showed off some of the shrink-wrapped remains from the Saturn V rockets that sent Apollo 12 and Apollo 16 to the moon.

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Jeff Bezos will unveil Florida launch plans

Image: Jeff Bezos
Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, inspects Blue Origin’s launch facility in West Texas before a test flight in April. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is heading to Cape Canaveral next month to make a “significant announcement regarding the emerging commercial launch industry” — most likely about plans for his Blue Origin space venture to build and launch rockets on Florida’s Space Coast.

The media invitation went out this week for the Sept. 15 event at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. No further details were provided about the subject of the announcement, but Blue Origin has been working for years to secure a Florida facility.

Bezos’ privately financed venture aims to send tourists and researchers to the edge of space in a vertical-launch-and-landing suborbital vehicle called New Shepard. An uncrewed prototype blasted off for its first developmental test flight in April at Blue Origin’s West Texas rocket range. The company is also working on an orbital launch system, with the aim of winning NASA contracts to ferry crew and cargo to the International Space Station. Developing that system is expected to be the focus in Florida.

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